WORDS VARDHAN KONDVIKAR
PHOTOGRAPHS T KRISHNA PRABAKAR
New Zealand’s Doubtful Sound is the less-visited (and better-named) sibling of Milford Sound. It’s less accessible, but it’s the one I’d spend my time at. I’ve been to Milford Sound, and, though it’s a must-see, its very fame makes it a problem, because your day-cruise boat is always surrounded by a flotilla of others. Doubtful Sound is far less accessible: you have to drive yourself from Queenstown to Te Anau, take a ferry across the lake, take a bus over a misty, rainforest-covered ridge, and then get onto your cruise boat. But it is this remoteness that makes it so special, especially if you take an overnight cruise, which gives you the comfort, and, most importantly, the time to really get a feel for this majestic corner of the world. You gape at sheer cliffs and cascades, marvel at the darkness of the water and the smell of the seals, and learn how good conservation can keep things looking glorious. And you do this, not with a couple of floppy sandwiches and Styrofoam cups of coffee, but with vast meals and upholstered couches and glasses of wine. Staying out on deck, braving the wind and the near-constant drizzle so you can look for Fiordland crested penguins is far easier when you know you can duck into the boat’s old-fashioned saloon for a bowl of hot soup, and the cold is much more fun to deal with when you know you can snuggle down in a cosy cabin instead of having to huddle against a bulkhead on a day-boat.
Why is it called Doubtful Sound, though? It’s because Captain Cook, on his travels, stopped at the ocean-ward entrance, wasn’t sure if it was navigable by sailboat, and called it Doubtful Harbour. Later, sailors renamed it Doubtful Sound, even though it’s actually a fiord, a deep valley carved out by retreating glaciers, not a sunken river valley (welcome to geography, folks!). Like Milford Sound, Doubtful is an ecosystem of its own, with its rainforest-covered sides, bird and plant life, two layers of water (more on that later), and resident pod of dolphins, along with occasional sightings of whales. It is a beautiful, almost mystical place – and with that bowl of soup inside you, a very, very likeable one.